Airspace above Northern Ireland is closed after wind blew ash from an erupting Icelandic volcano above the UK.
The no-fly zone imposed over Northern Ireland was expected to remain until 1pm today. But with the situation unpredictable and changing by the hour, passengers were urged to check with their airlines for the latest information on today’s flights.
Flights to and from Dublin Airport will be grounded until 9am today.
A statement on air traffic authority Nats's website said: "The volcanic ash cloud continues to change shape and two key areas affect operations stretching from the south of England to Northern Ireland, and over much of mainland Scotland to the Shetland Isles."
Weather forecasters predict the new cloud will cause travel misery across the UK and Ireland until at least mid-week — marking the third major period of disruption caused by the volcano’s ash since it first erupted last month.
Flights are expected to be disrupted until Wednesday when the ash cloud is forecast to be pushed out of UK airspace by a change in wind direction.
But this could be just temporary respite as volcano experts now predict Europe could be sporadically affected by Iceland’s volcanic activity for some time to come — possibly even for decades.
The high-density volcanic ash cloud spread rapidly over the weekend from Iceland after eruptions intensified.
Helped by unfavourable wind directions, the cloud drifted over Northern Ireland first before going further south, closing down much of UK and Irish airspace by yesterday afternoon.
Passengers arriving for early morning departures at Belfast International Airport yesterday were greeted with a heart-sinking list of cancellations on information screens. Some passengers complained that communication about the cancellations was slow, but other passengers felt the airlines handled the situation better this time. The disruption wreaked havoc for hundreds of tourists returning from Northern Ireland’s biggest sporting event of the year, the North West 200.
A spokeswoman for Belfast International urged travellers to “check with their airline or tour operator for the latest information on their flight before committing to their journey to the airport”.
The scenes of misery were repeated at City of Derry and Belfast City airports where passengers were greeted with widespread cancellations.
City of Derry bosses have halted all flights up until 12.45pm today.
Five-day ash prediction charts have been made available on the Met Office website to help alleviate the confusion caused by the sudden closure of airspace and resulting flight cancellations. These show that the latest plume of ash should drift away from Europe later in the week.
The Irish Aviation Authority closed airports in Sligo, Donegal, Galway and Knock. Flights to and from Dublin Airport were grounded from 7pm last night until at least 9am today.
The no-fly zone was extended by yesterday afternoon to many airports in northern England, including Manchester and Liverpool. As the cloud drifted further south, Birmingham and Norwich airports shut from 7pm last night.
Airports in Prestwick near Glasgow, some Scottish islands and the Isle of Man were also affected.
Last night London airports remained open but the ash cloud is expected to lie over the capital by tomorrow.
Professor Brian Golding, head of forecasting research at the Met Office, said the cloud stemmed from an eruption last Thursday.
“The volcano has now dropped back in height... so the ash coming towards us for the future isn't quite so deep as it was on Thursday.
“It isn't going to turn into a huge area and it's being blown eastwards, between south-east and east,” he said.
However, Thor Thordarson, a volcanologist at Edinburgh University, described how air travel could be affected for decades as Iceland moves into a new cycle of eruptions.
“The frequency of Icelandic eruptions seems to rise and fall in a cycle lasting around 140 years,” he said, adding that there is evidence that we are now approaching a peak in activity.
He said at least three other big Icelandic volcanoes are building towards an eruption, including a serious threat from a volcano called Katla which has in the past been triggered into life by activity from a smaller neighbour.
Ash from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano has caused disruption to thousands of flights since April. Airspace across Europe was shut down for five days over concerns ash could turn to molten glass in high temperatures, crippling plane engines.